The 7 October massacre of tens of hundreds of Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists changed everything and – not so surprisingly – nothing. It is less than a month. The bodies of lives destroyed are still being buried. More than 200 innocent people, of all ages and races, continue to be held by terrorists inside Gaza. Those responsible are being hunted down, but most are still at large. And hundreds of thousands of people are sheltering away from home, trying to keep themselves and their families safe.
The increasingly loud focus around the world on the need to resolve this conflict – either immediately or (from those who understand a little more of the subtleties) at a later date though one not too far off – through the implementation of a two-state solution – is unsurprising.
It could be argued this has been the narrative for co-existence since the 1940s – when of course the United Nations’ own partition plan was rejected by the Arab nations on behalf of the Palestinians.
More recently over the last three decades, the two-state solution (details largely undefined) has been held up as the template to end all wars, to create a thriving patchwork of micro-states flourishing alongside each other. The dream has most resonance for those furthest away from the region and its intricacies. To perpetuate it now is sheer fantasy, flying in the face of the facts which the ugliness of the last weeks have made undeniable. This has not prevented the calls for the so-called definitive sharing out of land leading news bulletins and national statements in response to the war.
Peace of any kind requires two sides who see more to gain from at least tolerating each other than attacking each other. Building a state requires a commitment to creating an independent framework for citizens, in which they are supported, nurtured, provided with opportunities to learn, and grow, and work, to provide for them and for their families, and to lay down foundations on which future generations can build. Of course a functioning state may also maintain a military presence, but for a stable state committed to peaceful existence, that military force exists to maintain law and order and to defend the state from attack. A force dedicated to acts of terror and aggression against neighboring states plays no part in such a future.
Which is why the idea that now is the ideal time to call for a two state solution seems particularly bizarre. Hamas’s commitment to Israel’s total destruction remains unwavering. It has manifested that through sending its operatives with instructions to break every rule in the playbook of war: To attack, to torture, to rape, and to inflict maximum suffering on every civilian that can be found. In the aftermath, as Israel has turned to defend itself, these potential leaders of a new order state have prevented their citizens from seeking safety, have imperilled lives by actively using military installations embedded alongside hospitals, schools and places of prayer, and have directed energy, food and water supplies away from their citizens to supply military needs.
Of course, there are alternative two-state partners. Mohammed Abbas’s Fatah organization – brutally removed from Gaza after Hamas took power, simultaneously tolerating and at war with, Hamas and other more radical Islamist terror groups embedded in the West Bank – could take on leadership of a Palestinian State. Except that Fatah’s willingness and ability to become a mature state capable of making peace remains far from clear. Fatah’s popular mandate remains deeply unclear – free elections have been in short supply in the West Bank, and terror cells and their activities, if not actively sponsored, have been allowed to operate freely, their “victories” celebrated, their martyrs rewarded. It goes without saying that Fatah’s commitment to recognizing Israel’s existence, as the second state in a twin state solution, is at best ambiguous.
It has never been certain how far the Arab nations surrounding Israel are truly invested in an independent state for their Palestinian “brothers”. The land of the Palestinian Territories have become a battleground for other rivalries, with the “Palestinian people” themselves, unpopular as it may be to say it, created out of refugees from across the Arab world who found themselves inside the boundaries of Israel/Palestine in the 1945 to 1948 period. Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are not truly aligned with the interests of Gaza and the West Bank’s Palestinians. Their actions – for example in terms of control of the Rafah Crossing – emphasize their reluctance to open up gates into their own countries for Palestinian refugees – not in truth for fear that they will give up rights to the lands they claim, but because they see disruption to the delicate balance of interests in their own populations. And also because these bigger neighbors, much as they may dislike much of what Israel represents to them, are sufficiently mature as states to accept the turns of history and to have learned to live in cold peace with a Jewish state.
Those pulling the strings – and more than that, funding and training generations of young men not just to fight an enemy, but to deny humanity and to launch terror against those who must be seen as sub-human – sit some distance from the realities of conflict. Among the spiraling minarets of Iran, there is a dream of a pan-Islamic world driven by a single ideology. And in the Middle East there are groups happy to shift any residual ideology to sign up to that in exchange for cash and weapons. Their vision – shared by Hezbollah and by Hamas – is not to free their people, and it is not to create a Palestinian democracy with freedom of belief even for Muslims within it: It is to create a new Islamic state in which the population is held them in submission once they have exterminated the enemy, Israel.
The problem in the Middle East is not one of occupation and a lack of autonomy. It is a failure of leadership in states and populations, other than Israel, to acquire the maturity to reach even the nursery slopes of discussion about a peaceful resolution. Peace comes after violence is foresworn when both sides learn that they are ready to live with a hearty dislike of each other, but that it is possible to build security on both sides. One party cannot impose this on another. Two sets of leaders need to be involved.
Everyone is entitled to dream. But dreams cannot be forced. Those that want them to happen would do better to work on creating the conditions to allow a leadership and societies committed to these goals to emerge, rather than intervening in a war of self-defense, survival, and brutal exploitation of innocent lives for the purposes of foreign ideology.